I spoke in Parliament on Wednesday on the topic of electric cars.
24 November 2010
I rise today to update the House on the imminent launch of Australia’s first electric car network in Canberra in 2012 and to explain how the electric car will benefit Australia’s economy, health, foreign relations and environment. Last week, Australians paid an average of $1.24 per litre for unleaded petrol. Soon, they won’t have to. Aside from the heavy burden that the price of petrol places on families, sourcing oil from regions with a history of being politically unstable will inevitably result in volatile petrol prices for Australians. The introduction of hybrid and electric cars presents an opportunity that benefits our health, environment and economy. Petrol-consuming passenger vehicles account for nearly half the total of Australia’s liquid fuel consumption, but we will soon have the opportunity to shift these vehicles’ power source from petrol to electricity.
Producing electricity for travel in hybrid and electric cars through current national electricity generation methods would release less greenhouse gas emissions than combustion in petrol cars. Indeed, an electric car powered by electricity from a coal fired power station emits less greenhouse gas than a petrol car. But we can do even better if the electricity comes from renewables. Currently, Australia generates 15,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy, sufficient to supply a fleet of five million electric cars without any ‘well to wheel’ greenhouse gas emissions. The Gillard government is committed to generating 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, which will equate to 45,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy annually—enough to supply an entire national electric car fleet without any greenhouse gas emissions.
The health benefits of electric cars are also significant. Unlike petrol vehicles, electric cars have no tailpipe emissions only precombustion emissions which, unlike those from petrol vehicles, include virtually no carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons or particulate matter emissions and only a quarter of the nitrogen oxides that are released by petrol vehicles. The total reduction of air pollutants in electric vehicles’ emissions compared to petrol vehicles’ emissions ranges between 10 and 20 grams per kilometre.
The emissions produced throughout the life cycle of electric cars in the manufacturing and disposal processes are difficult to predict, due to the ever-evolving and highly complex automotive manufacturing industry and its supply industries. At this stage, research from MIT indicates that electric cars require 20 per cent less lifecycle energy and associated greenhouse gas emissions than petrol vehicles. Electric vehicles will also require less maintenance, as they have 70 per cent fewer moving and consumable parts which is estimated to halve maintenance costs over ten years.
Australia’s power generation and distribution infrastructure will most likely not need to be expanded to produce extra electricity for electric cars. The power produced by renewable solar and wind sources varies over the day. Therefore, electric cars will charge during the time required by the driver at charging rates that vary according to the current electricity available and demand for distribution. This minimises the impact of the cars on the energy infrastructure and allows cars to collect and store up to seven kilowatts of energy, generated in times of low electricity demand, that would otherwise be wasted. A car can then later return any surplus energy to the grid in periods of high demand to power the community or other cars that require immediate charging—greatly reducing the demand for additional energy generation to charge electric cars.
By capturing, saving and then returning excess energy to the grid—excess energy that Australia generated but would not otherwise have used or stored—each electric car could enable, for example, the retention of 43 megawatt hours of renewable wind energy annually, while each electric vehicle would require only 2.7 megawatt hours of electricity to recharge over a year. With each car effectively saving 40 megawatt hours of energy that would otherwise be lost, a fleet of one million electric vehicles would, therefore, allow the realisation of the 45,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy required by the Federal Renewable Energy Target.
The introduction of the electric car to Canberra in 2012 presents Australia with an unprecedented opportunity to increase our international independence and economic stability, to decrease car maintenance costs and increase the health of Australians, and the possibility of greatly reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is an opportunity we must grasp with both hands—an opportunity that our nation cannot afford to miss.